A few of my orange-themed photos from Luang Prabang,Laos
Sharing orangeness with the Daily Post
This week we are challenged to share a picture that captures a fleeting moment on the street
I was in Luang Prabang, Laos, earlier this year and took these pictures in the street:
Here is a miscellany of other photos I took in Luang Prabang
Monday 30.01 was a special Buddha day and I was woken by a concerto of drums and cymbals at 4am. I got up at 6am to watch the monks run the gauntlet of tuk-tuk and minivan-loads of camera-wielding tourists. I couldn’t believe how ill-mannered many of the tourists were, thrusting their cameras right into the faces of the monks. I felt like an intruder but at the same time wanted some souvenir photos as it was an extraordinary sight to see – a couple of hundred monks from the various temples making their way around the block collecting their food and other necessities for the day.
Whenever you see posters advertising Luang Prabang you will see images of waterfalls. One day we went to visit one of the national park and to see the waterfalls at Khang Si.
First we walked past the large enclosures of the bear rehabilitation centre and were pleased to see that the bears seemed well fed and in good condition. Notices on the enclosures emphasised that the bears were given lots of hammocks, tyres, pipes, etc. to play with because it was important to give them a stimulating environment.
Then we walked up to the falls. We climbed up a steep and difficult path to about half way up to the top of the falls but decided against going all the way to the top as it was too difficult. The falls were most attractive with limestone pools of milky turquoise water which reminded me very much of Pamukkale in Turkey. Although we had taken swimming things we didn’t swim because the water was too cold.
I walked to the Ock Pop Tok gallery to get the tuk-tuk to their weaving and cultural centre which was set up to preserve the arts of weaving and dyeing.
The centre is on the river bank on the outskirts of town. I had my own private guide but was hurried through as they didn’t seem to like me taking photos but I was fascinated by it all.
It’s possible to take classes there and there were 3 people doing classes while I was there; 2 girls were making traditional designs that would be dyed in indigo and a woman was learning to weave.
While I was in the shop there someone bought a beautiful wall hanging for 2,283,000 kip (about €200), actually not that expensive when you consider some of the pieces take a month to weave.
Luang Prabang is encircled by mountains and set 700m above sea level at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. It now welcomes visitors with a degree of sophistication that was probably un-dreamed of, in terms of the quality of accommodation and restaurants that is now available, when it first opened up to tourists in 1989. The city is UNESCO heritage listed which means that it’s mercifully empty of buses and trucks and most people get around on foot, by bicycle or in tuk-tuks.
We took a taxi from the airport to our guesthouse and our guesthouse was a pleasant surprise as it was at the far end of the peninsula, almost at the confluence of the rivers, and therefore quiet. It was sandwiched between a temple complex and the very exclusive Viceroy villa, the former residence of Prince Chao Lansa Samphan, the brother of the Lao King, and which is now one of the few privately owned mansions available for rent.
Our (first) room had polished dark wooden floors and a high ceiling.
A covered balcony ran the length of the building overlooking the Viceroy Villa’s garden with its palm trees, bananas, and large lily pond complete with fountain – a very pleasant place to sit. Breakfasts were somewhat erratic as you didn’t always get what you thought you had ordered, eg. when I wanted some marmalade for my toast I got an omelette.
Next morning, a gong at 4am in the temple, followed by chanting, woke me but to me that was part of the charm of being there.
We spent the first morning discussing what we were going to do and soon realised that there wasn’t much to do except chilling out and temple visiting. Both sounded OK to me.
In the afternoon we walked into town looking for the tourist office.
That Makmo – known as the watermelon stupa, because of its rounded dome. The dome stylistically reflects a Sinhalese influence and is the only stupa of such a shape in Laos.
While I was off looking for the tourist office, vainly it transpired, for it no longer seemed to exist, DH had found and ensconced himself in the Aussie sports bar where he got talking to one of the guys who helps out there. We decided to eat dinner there and it was very good too. By the end of the evening we had been introduced to a number of denizens. From them we got some recommendations on where to eat and where not to eat – definitely not at the night market if you wished to avoid getting sick! – as well as other useful information such as where I could get a name stamp carved. They also told us a bit about life in Luang Prabang. Casual fraternising with the locals is forbidden. One of the guys had an arranged marriage and another had courted his wife for 2 years with a chaperone in attendance. There were apparently no prostitutes there and only 2 or 3 known lady boys. This was the big difference between there and Thailand where you see a never-ending stream of (generally ageing) Causcasian males with young Thai girls on their arms.
A short guide to temple (vat or wat) architecture: The uposatha (Lao sim; ordination hall) is always the most important structure in any Buddhist wat. The high-peaked roofs are layered to represent several levels (usually three, five, seven or occasionally nine), which correspond to the various Buddhist doctrines. The edges of the roofs almost always feature a repeated flame motif, with long, fingerlike hooks at the corners called chaw faa (sky clusters). Umbrella-like spires along the central roof-ridge of a sim, called nyawt chaw faa or ‘topmost chaw faa, sometimes bear small pavilions (nagas – mythical water serpents) in a double-stepped arrangement representation of Mt Meru, the mythical centre of the Hindu-Buddhist cosmos (LPG).
I started walking into town, stopping to take photos at every temple on the way. First stop was the temple complex immediately next to our guesthouse, which comprised Vat Si Boun Heuang, Wat Sirimungkhun, Wat Sop and Wat Sensoukarahm making it difficult to work out which was which.
Wat Sensoukarahm, “temple of a thousand treasures” has a rich red facade decorated with stencilling
the following photos are of Wat Siphoutthabat Thippharam, where there is a school for monks*
I guess what most photographers want when they go to Luang Prabang is photos of the monks in their glorious orange robes but women especially should never approach or talk to a monk unless the monk speaks first and you should only take photos from afar. So I was quite surprised to be greeted by a softly spoken “sabaidee” (hello) as I came out of one of the buildings in a small and somewhat dilapidated wat on the corner of the block near the temporary bridge across the Nam Khan river. I turned round and there were 2 young monks sitting there. I returned the greeting and the one in the mustard-coloured robe, whose name turned out to be very long – Inthoneouthomphone, asked where I was from. This is nearly always the first question we are asked wherever we go. Replying that I am from Luxembourg usually elicits more interest because most people have never heard of it. After chatting for a while I eventually asked if I could take a photo of him and his friend and he replied yes and asked if I would e-mail him the photo as well as some photos of my country.
I gave him my e-mail address and told him about Skype and how he could use that to chat to people and to see them while talking to them. Every monk has a mobile phone and many of them have computers. Whatever happened to “no earthly possessions”?
*with thanks to Lao Miao for help in identifying this wat and for much other useful information about the wats/vats in Luang Prabang.
The next day I visited Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham or simply Wat Mai, which is the biggest Budhhist temple in Luang Prabang. The name Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham means The New Monastery of the Golden Land. Its most notable feature is its wonderful gilded facade
It is not possible to take photographs inside the actual building comprising the Royal Palace but we were able to visit it and it provided a fascinating glimpse into a way of life long past. In the grounds of the Palace is the very ornate building of Wat Ho Pha Bang which was built in 1993.
I went to visit the Xieng Thong temple round the corner from the guesthouse, which was supposed to be the most spectacular in Luang Prabang. The Wat Xieng Thong, “monastery of the golden city”, is the religious emblem of Luang Prabang and one of the highest symbols of Buddhism in Laos. Located close to the tip of the Luang Prabang peninsula, where the Nam Khan flows into the Mekong River, Wat Xieng Thong was built by King Setthathirath in 1560, during the golden years of Lan Xang Kingdom. Its gracefully sloping roof and glass murals epitomise the classical Luang Prabang style of temple architecture. Unfortunately the main building was being restored so you couldn’t go in it but the rest was pretty spectacular. On the back of the main building is a mosaic of a tree of life.
Next to the sim of Wat Xieng Thong is a smaller building which the French called La Chapelle Rouge, (English -the Red Chapel). Inside it is a unique reclining black Buddha image with the robe curling outward at the ankle. On the outside of the Red Chapel is an interesting mural showing rural life in Laos.
Facing the same courtyard, is another ornate structure with a façade that is richly carved and layered in gold leaf. This structure houses the funerary chariot of King Sisavong Vang, built in 1960. The funerary chariot occupies almost the whole of the interior. At the back of the building are a some Buddhist figures in the standing pose as well as one in the “calming the flood” pose, each one of them has a different face.